President Jacob Zuma on Monday said South Africa is ready for a woman president and that it could happen sooner than expected. Zuma’s remarks come a few weeks after the Mail & Guardian reported that he and his supporters had indicated an interest in promoting either his ex-wife and chairperson of African Union commission Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma or ANC chairperson Baleka Mbete to succeed him as ANC president in 2017, and the country’s president in 2019.
Both Mbete and Dlamini-Zuma have accepted nominations as ANC representatives in Parliament after this week’s general elections. The two women are regarded as senior in the ANC and government, with Mbete having served as the country’s deputy president in 2008 and Dlamini-Zuma as home affairs minister for several years during Zuma’s presidency. The M&G reported last week that Mbete was earmarked for the position of second deputy president in Zuma’s administration after elections.
ANC insiders have previously told the M&G that Zuma’s supporters, mainly from KwaZulu Natal, were planning to push Dlamini-Zuma ahead of ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa as the next president because they did not trust the former trade unionist come businessperson Ramaphosa.
Zuma told journalists during an ANC breakfast in Johannesburg on Monday that he would support the selection of a woman president.
“The ANC has come in to say women must be in power. I think the country is ready for a woman president. The ANC has capable women [who can serve as president]. The ANC would enthusiastically [support] the election of a woman president. That might happen sooner than we think,” said Zuma.
His remarks could suggest he wanted Dlamini-Zuma or Mbete to succeed him and not Ramaphosa. They also indicate that Zuma may not be interested in serving a third term as ANC president. Unlike the country’s constitutional restrictions on the terms of a president, the ANC allows its party presidents to serve more than two terms. Former president Thabo Mbeki contested to serve for the third term as ANC president in 2007, but was defeated by Zuma.
Mbeki vs Zuma
Ironically, Mbeki and his supporters wanted a woman, preferably Dlamini-Zuma, to succeed Mbeki as the country’s president in 2009. But he failed to maintain his term until 2009, as he was forced out by the Zuma-led ANC national executive committee in 2008 after he was defeated by Zuma for the position of ANC president in 2007. Dlamini-Zuma was on Mbeki’s cards for deputy ANC president in 2007, but was defeated by deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe, who was on Zuma’s slate at the time.
Before the ANC’s national conference in Mangaung, ANC Women’s League president and Zuma’s close ally Angie Motshekga said the country was not ready for a woman president. The women’s league under Motshekga supported Zuma’s re-election as ANC president in 2012. Cracks within the ANC are expected to show soon after the upcoming elections as the re-alignment of factional groupings within the party begins.
Zuma, who is set to begin his second term as president after Wednesday’s elections, on Monday said contesting for elections within the ANC was healthy for the organisation
“This [contestation] is what the ANC needs. But what needs to happen is for people to allow democratic processes. We must afford members of the ANC space to choose their own leaders. Contestation will happen in the next [coming] years. I will be at my Nkandla [at that time]. But I will continue to contribute as an ordinary member of the ANC,” said Zuma.